William Blake tells us that spiritual maturity consists of holding grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. Mary Magdalene calls us to stand in a place where we can look pain in the face AND open to profound joy. This is a practice we desperately need, for happiness without the acknowledgement of the difficulties of life can become shallow, while focusing on the suffering of life without acknowledging the beauty and sweetness there is can harden our hearts and make us depressed and bitter.
This masterwork by Georges de la Tour (1640) symbolizes the Magdalene's capacity to hold both life and death, joy and sorrow. Notice how her belly looks very pregnant, while she serenely folds her hands upon the top of the skull, her gaze steady upon the light which is brilliantly reflected in the mirror of contemplation. It is a teaching for all of us: to stay present, focused on how we can reflect the spirit of illumination, no matter what the outer circumstances. It is a teaching echoed in the Gospel of Mary, an early Christian text rediscovered in the past century and first translated in our time.
One of the most powerful meditation techniques I know is the Grief and Gratitude walk. This can be done either in nature or on a labyrinth. On the way to your destination ( in the labyrinth, this would be the center), try carrying a stone that signifies all the grief you have borne in your life. When you arrive, see if you can leave the stone behind as a symbol of releasing the pain you have experienced. On the way back, try to call to mind with each and every step a person, place or event that has given you beauty, depth, meaning, or showered you with tenderness, compassion or kindness. It is amazing what you will remember. I hope you will share your stories in the "comments" below!